It was ringing on the other end. A long, cold ring of anticipation. He’d normally hang up by this point, but this was urgent. Perhaps just five more bells in his ear.
“Hi, is this Amy Gridlock?”
The answer came back as a question. “Yes?” It was followed by another question, one that was not also an answer: “Who’s this?”
“It’s Gerard, I work for Joe Smote.” Gerard tried to think of additional information to help make his identity clearer. “Ummm? I’m Joe’s business manager.” This was only true in a figurative sense. Joe prefered to call him ‘assistent’. Or, on the day’s that Joe was being more than just averagely salty, secretary.
“Oh, yes. How can I help you Gerard?”
“I was just wondering, have you seen Joe recently?”
A brief pause. “No. Why? Is he missing?”
Gerard wasn’t sure what answer to give to this. He knew what the truth was, but this might not be the time to engage in random acts of truthfulness. There were bills to pay, and while the truth might set people free, Gerard’s concern was that it could set both he and Joe free of the much needed payment for this case. “No, no,” he said, “I expect he’s still out investigating away from phones.” This was not a very good lie, it needed embellishment. “I only contacted you because I thought he might have gone to give you his report… because… um… that’s what he said he was going to do. You know? After his away-from-phone-investigations.”
“Really?” Amy’s voice betrayed some incredulity.
“Oh, yes,” Gerard replied, “That’s what he told me on his way out the door. ‘Gerard’, he said, ‘I’m just going out to do some away-from-phone-investigations, and then I’m going to see that lovely Miss Gridlock to report’.” Gerard had to admit that this did not sound at all like something Joe would say. This fabrication was not going well.
“Well, I’m afraid he isn’t here. Did you want to leave a message for him for when he shows up? I mean, if you’re very sure he’s coming to make a report.”
Oh dear, thought Gerard, she’s not buying this at all. She did, however, seem to be prepared to pretend that she believed it, which was very sporting. “Yes, thank you Miss Gridlock. If you could just tell him that… ummm… his Grandfather called the office and needs him to drop by with some milk. On account of the fact that his Grandfather is out. I mean out of milk, not actually out, because then there would be no point for Joe to drop by. Hahaha.”
When he did find Joe, Gerard was going to insist that Joe pay for him to do a professional-development course. Preferably one that taught Private-Investigative-Assistants how to tell believable deceptions over the phone. Gerard was fairly sure that Joe didn’t have a living Grandfather. In fact, Gerard seemed to recall that when he did have a live one, it had hated milk.
“Okay Gerard, I’ll pass that message on to Joe if he shows up.” Another brief pause. “But just in case you see him first, could you tell him that I would very much appreciate this report you thought he might already be giving me.”
“Yes, of course Miss Gridlock.”
The phone went dead, and Gerard replaced the receiver. It had been a long shot, Joe tended to have as little to do with clients as he could until he’d finished whatever it was they’d commissioned him for. But the fact remained, Joe had not fronted at the office for over two days, and Gerard was concerned. He picked up the phone and dialed a new number.
“Hello, Harold? I think we might have a problem…. No, I haven’t forgotten about the dinner….Yes, Yes, I’ll get the ingredients from the right grocer…. Look, if you’d just let me finish, you’d realize that I’m not actually trying to get out of doing the cooking. Harold, I need your help. Joe’s gone missing.”
∗ ∗ ∗
The mysterious disappearance of Joe Smote was not only a concern for his assistant. Currently, it was also causing Joe some difficulties. He really had no idea where he was, nor was he completely sure how long he’d been ‘disappeared’. That, at least, was something: he’d not been fully disappeared to the point of death. He was pretty sure you had to be alive to hold abstract concepts like time.
No, this was not one of your fatal disappearances. It was more the kind of disappearance a sentient sock gets when it suddenly finds itself alone in a strange land without its partner. The questions for me are: where exactly is the strange land a sentient Joe suddenly finds himself in when he disappears in sock-like mystery? Is it the kind of land where a Joe starts a monologue, and refers to himself in the third person?
Joe decided that, while the third person viewpoint was cause for concern, the starting of a monologue was pretty much business as usual. But where was this, and how had he gotten here?
The room he found himself in was monkish. Not monkish in the sense that it looked like a place where a man could quietly meditate on divine mysteries and just sort make stuff up about witches. More in the sense that it looked suspiciously like a cell; a cell with no windows, one bed, a table and two chairs, and a bucket for waste excretion. Perhaps, not so much a monk’s cell, but more like a five-star dungeon. It even had a large mirror that filled one wall. Joe assumed that this was so the really discerning prisoners could become progressively horrified by their obvious signs of deterioration. No. Not a cell or dungeon, something far worse. An interrogation room with a bed in it.
The bed was the creepiest part. It was clearly not a bed for slumber, it had no mattress and the kind of restraints necessary for mad scientists to perform vivisections.
“I think he’s waking up again.” The voice had come from a small speaker nesting in a crevice where two of the room’s walls transformed into ceiling.
“What?” A second voice. “How can you tell? I can’t hear anything.”
“He’s moving his lips,” said the first voice. “Also, he’s sitting up on the bed.”
“C’mon,” the second voice scoffed, “he’s probably just going to vomit again. We’ve been tricked by this before; I got tricked right in the face last time.”
Joe wasn’t sure why, but the knowledge that he’d sicked-up in second voice’s face made him feel good. There was something very familiar about that voice. For some reason, it reminded him of the smell of fish and sea air.
“No,” said the first voice, “he’s definitely awake. See? He’s staring right at the speaker.”
“Wow, that’s really creepy. It’s almost as though he can hear us. Perhaps he’s possessed? That would explain all the vomiting.”
“Yes,” agreed the first voice, “that’s one way it could be explained. Still, I wonder why we can’t hear him. I was sure that I’d–. Oh.”
Joe heard the speaker click off.
∗ ∗ ∗
“Are you absolutely sure this is where Joe is?” Gerard looked down at a set of blueprints secured to a chart table. He loved blueprints, he and Harold had several sets, which they had beautifully framed, and which hung on the walls of their apartment. This set was not one of those – the framed ones were down the hall in the main living area – these ones were impaled on Harold’s chart table in the home office.
“Yes, this where he is.” Harold leaned closer to the drawings and studied them with the practiced eye of a man who’d studied blueprints before, and not necessarily in a friendly way. “Unless I much miss my guess, he’s probably being held in this sub basement level, here.” He pointed to the offending area to make sure Gerard knew where the sub basement was. Despite his appreciation of their artistic merit, Gerard was not good at reading technical drawings of this kind.
“That doesn’t look like it’s very easy to get to.”
“I should think that it’s designed to be impossible to get to,” agreed Harold. “Yet, we’ll have to get to it.”
“Do you think he’s still alive, Harold? It’s been over a week now.”
“Sure,” Harold said in a reassuring tone. He wasn’t actually sure, but he could tell that this is what Gerard needed to hear. He wanted to believe it himself, the both of them were very fond of Gerard’s eccentrically sarcastic boss. “We’ll get him out, there’s no need to worry.” He patted Gerard’s shoulder affectionately.
“Okay, only it looks like a fortress.”
“That is because it is a fortress. But there’s no need for anxiety, my team and I successfully broke into one very similar last year. It can be done. It won’t be easy, but we can do it. In fact, I think we can go as early as tomorrow night. I’ll just need to tweak last year’s plan a little, and make the calls to get the team assembled.”
At the the mention of Harold’s team, Gerard relaxed. They wouldn’t have to do it alone. It is good to have friends; dangerous and capable friends. “Well, that is a relief. Now, I think it’s time for some tea. Would you like some tea, sweetie?”
“Tea sounds perfect.”
END OF CHAPTER 6